Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Getting back to Frank Kermode's The Sense of an Ending: Lecture the First

I just finished reading the first lecture. Generally, it's either me or Kermode. Strongly suspecting the former, I'm not, probably, up to the range and depth of his thought. So I struggle with him, sometimes thinking I'm getting him, and sometimes feeling at sea amidst his ornate prose and many scholarly references. I do admit to feeling, not a little, that he's talking a lot of incomprehensible nonsense. But as I say, I, and I'll, presume it's me, not him. I'll want to test that out but first the following.

I'd put Kermode's argument in his first lecture as something like this:

…………………………...What Kermode wants to do is understand the more extreme ways we make sense of the world--"making sense of making sense." Apocalyptic thinking, even though it changes, has a very long tradition. That change is dynamic even dialectical, as newer modes of apocalyptic thought build on the older and contain within themselves, in confronting changing facts, the seeds for the development of new modes emerging out of them. Within the frames of that developing thought reside the changing ways we see the world--the changing "laws we prescribe to nature and... to time." We take those frames, and within them those laws, to be true. When the facts of the world overwhelm them, we deal with them--the frames and the laws-- by locating their truth in art and by seeing them as analogues for the marked points of our historical experience. As Kermode argues:

"The apocalyptic types--empire, decadence and renovation, progress and catastrophe--are fed by history and underlie our ways of making sense of the world from where we stand, in the middest."

But with an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the world comes an increasingly subtle texturing of these themes of apocalypse. In that texturing, prophecy become apocalypse amalgamates with tragedy. In that amalgamation, there is a kind of aestheticization and secularization of the end as Revelation: "the humble elect survive not all kings of the earth...but the one king whose typical story is enacted before them." But eventually tragedy itself gets demystified: the end of tragedy loses its own apocalyptic finality; the tragic we now see as immanent and not imminent. Crisis is the apotheosis of that immanence. And behind crisis lies the bottomless, dark pit of the unknowable. In art, that apotheosis shows itself in the radical cutting against any deterministic patterns of form, theme, time itself and the order and certainty derived from the “strict concordance between (sic) beginning, middle and end.”

We can, still, however, construct an eschatology; and we can do so out of more than the regretful and lonely condition of our lives. We have a storehouse of stronger materials than those for that construction. But the dynamism here is that we build only for ourselves, who will die. In that building we adapt and alter the materials so that the modes of what we construct must change but always the ur pattern will be the foundation. And, always, there will be a necessary relation between those continuously being constructed modes—ways of making sense of the world—and the art we make and how we respond to the art already made...……………………………

I struggle to understand this and to the extent that I do I think I disagree with it.

I'll just make two points:

1. Talk of an ur pattern is incoherent here; and it’s Kermode’s, as yet unfulfilled, burden to give content to the “primeval pattern” that underlies all modes. That is to say, “the golden bird” which "will not always sing the same song, though a primeval pattern underlies its notes.”

2. It is a massive contradiction to speak as Kermode does, on the one hand, “…of when the beginning is lost in the dark backward and abysm of time…..”, of living in a world of crisis “…which may or may not have a temporal end” and of thinking “…in terms of crisis rather than temporal ends…” and of the jettisoning of any deterministic pattern in art by radical disconfirmation and radically reversing expectations as in the novels Kermode cites by Robbe-Grillet, and, on the other hand, to even speak of constructing an eschatology, of an underlying primeval pattern, of “artifices of eternity”, and of the utter conflation that I read in the following:

“The apocalyptic types…are fed by history and underlie our ways of making sense of the the world from where we stand, in the middest.”

Lastly, to try to test for wisdom or nonsense, consider this:

“…this was the moment when the terrors of apocalypse were absorbed by tragedy. The Renaissance equivalent of the long Beatus tradition…is King Lear. And the process of sophisticating the paradigm continues. Tragedy, we are told, must yield to Absurdity; existential tragedy is an impossibility and King Lear is terrible farce. It would be interesting to see what… Francis Bacon…might make of the Beatus types; they might have terror enough, but the paradigms would be, one feels, deeply submerged.

In the nature of the case this must be so…”

I’ll stake out a position here and say that this is all high toned gibberish that doesn’t evince a sustainable, linear line of reasoning, let alone the fatuity of its content. I’d be more than happy to be taken apart on that position and be shown the error of my arrogant, presumptuous ways.

In a nutshell: have regard to Philip Rahv's essay The Myth and the Powerhouse. For Rahv the "Powerhouse" is an unhistoricist notion of history. He poses a strict and analytical opppostion between the two. Never their twain can meet. Kermode is all over the place sometimes keeping the two separate and too often conflating them.

Two Comments on Zaitchik on Beck

1. LawrenceGulotta

"Beck on Top" by Alexander Zaitchik

Beck has now completed the building blocks of a New Right-wing extremism. He has added Christian fundamentalist religion, that “good old-time religion,” to his advocacy of laissez-faire ("lazzaroni-faire") Manchester-style liberal economics; hysterical anti-socialism; anti-immigration and foreigner bias and “down home nativism.” Fr. Charles Couglin, Jr., the 1930s pro-fascist radio priest, Sen. Joe McCarthy and Robert Welsh would all be proud. What we see is the modern version of the anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party, the Anti-Masonic Party, the American Party, unfold before our eyes

2. me:

Good post Lawrence Gulotta.

You concisely put a lot of telling things together. And you make it abundantly clear, by noting Beck's historical lineage, that, despite all his spurious protestations otherwise, he's overtly "political" to his core and in everything he does. For him, indeed, "the personal is political."

I quite despise Beck. But his talent for being superb at the crap he does needs recognition. Bad health aside--he may be going blind--I wouldn't be too quick to write off his future prominence or to predict his relative flame out.

I am stunned by the audacity of the flimsiness of Beck's line of reasoning in his latest tarring of Obama, while he, at the same time, ostensibly walks back his "Obama is a racist" assertion.

...No, Obama isn’t a racist. He, rather, is a devotee of Liberation Theology as manifest in the Church of Reverend Wright...

Therefore, continueth Beck:

...1. Obama is a red/pinko Communist/Socialist because that theology has it that salvation is collective, not individual, whereas the truth is that the essence of America's Judeo-Christian ethic is that salvation is individual.

2. There is an ironclad nexus between collective salvation and collective governance via Socialism, which dictatorial governance obliterates the great American ethic of individualism, hence freedom, and obliterates the "Democratic" with which some Socialists malignly soften their Socialism.

3. And, by the way, Obama is a racist because his Black Liberation Theology, via his twenty years with Reverend Wright, commits him to that in its, and his, hatred of white people as the scourge of black people...

It's simply mind blowing to me that this is what Beck says on national (albeit cable) television and that he's so accommodated in doing that and that he can attract (is it?) hundreds of thousands of people to a revival type event and all at the same time make these assertions--often coded--while misappropriating Martin Luther King.

As Ross Perot used to say, as did others, with his peculiar, down home, Yiddish inflection: "Only in America!"

Right Wing Media's Modus Operandi

1. http://michellemalkin.com/2010/08/23/the-white-house-war-on-jobs/

2. Michelle Malkin and her right wing ilk have the same modus operandi. They cherrypick certain stories or even certain aspects of certain stories or certain details buried in a hay stack of details. Then, on the basis of their cherry picking--which reduces itself to sound bites and slogans—they draw overarching, inflammatory conclusions like "The White House War on Jobs". Then they throw back at their critics their cherry pickings as the evidence for their conclusions. Because they take things out of context or don't give anyone the benefit of the whole, counter arguing them requires nuanced, detailed and well informed responses, which is exactly what sound bite, shrill media have no time for. I suppose it's great propaganda and demagoguery, but it's hell on intellectual honesty and civil, fair and good faith discourse. And being that, it's invidious and threatening to democracy, the oxygen for which is that very discourse.

Ibish and Lake on Blogging Heads: Not to be Missed: Perhaps Some Commentary to Follow


Monday, August 30, 2010

One More Word on Beck

Beck on Top

The talk-show host's 'Restoring Honor' rally was about one thing: him.

Alexander Zaitchik

August 29, 2010 | 11:52 pm//TNR

.Almost no one who attended Saturday’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the National Mall seems able to cogently explain what, exactly, took place. Was it a thinly disguised political rally? A triumph of Made in America inspirational treacle? A modern-day religious revival? When probed by reporters, happy participants and skeptical observers alike struggled to make sense of the prayerful parade that saw Tony LaRussa, Sarah Palin, and Eveda King take turns at a podium between prerecorded voiceovers about crossroads, awakenings, and miracles. Yet there was one message that the afternoon’s emotional emcee managed to get across with unmistakable clarity: Glenn Beck is still a major force to be reckoned with, and has every intention of staying one.

In the months leading up to Saturday’s rally, it had become fashionable for broadcast industry pros and liberal pundits to say that Beck had entered the early stages of a much-anticipated flameout. After a meteoric 2009, there were certainly grounds for shorting Beck stock. Beck’s TV ratings, after rocketing Fox News’s 5 p.m. slot to new heights, had begun to fall to earth. More ominously, this summer, after years of looking past Beck’s Mormonism, his largely protestant Evangelical base began to question the state of the host’s soul, if not his motives. Even Bill O’Reilly could not resist suggesting on air that Beck had finally jumped the shark. During an episode of “The O’Reilly Factor,” the older host confidently bet against a major turnout for “Restoring Honor,” Beck’s most audacious gambit to date.

O’Reilly was far from the first to bet wrong against Beck, the most unlikely and freakish success story in all of media. By bursting the National Mall with his loving legions, Beck did more than prove reports of his demise wrong. Indeed, by drawing upward of 100,000 of his fans to the capital, Beck proved that he had outgrown the old categories and become more than simply a “media figure.” As befits his growing use of religious rhetoric and posturing—“Glenn Beck’s Divine Destiny” graced the Kennedy Center last Friday night with religious music and speakers—Beck has moved fully into new territory. He must now be bracketed together with revivalists like Billy Graham and “Sister” Aimee McPherson, not conservative animatrons like Sean Hannity.

To understand what Glenn Beck accomplished with “Restoring Honor,” it’s useful to look back at the methods Beck has always used to promote himself and further his career. His path to last Saturday’s success began, appropriately, while working in Washington, D.C., as a WPGC morning jock during the early ‘80s. It was there that Beck met another young DJ named Bruce Kelly, who became his first mentor in the art of publicity. For the next two decades, Beck labored in the fiercely competitive world of zoo-style Top 40 morning radio, where DJs fought dirty for attention—from local media coverage to top billing at charity events. “It’s hard for people who never worked in FM radio during the 1980s to really understand how deep publicity-hunger runs in Beck’s blood,” says Kelly, a radio veteran who worked with and against Beck in two markets. “Morning radio DJ’s were the Navy Seals of getting your name out there and keeping it out there. It was all about finding the biggest stage to promote yourself and your shows. Take away the high rhetoric, and Saturday is just a masterful lesson in the art of the publicity stunt. Old DJ’s like me can only stand in awe.”

Years before Beck made it as the maudlin hype man of the paranoid style, he was famous for high-dive publicity splashes following a masterful long-tease. In Baltimore in the early ’90s, while working with his current radio co-host Pat Gray, Beck turned straw into gold by building up the grand opening of an underground theme park, Magicland, which did not exist. He did it all with a few audio clips and an understanding of his audience’s psychology—the very tools he later used to create the political Magicland known as the Van Jones Scandal.

The closest analog to Saturday in Beck’s past was his 2003 traveling “Rally for America” road show. As with last weekend’s “Restoring Honor,” Beck falsely billed those controversial rallies as “nonpolitical,” used charitable donations to defray logistics costs, piggybacked, when possible, on other events such as Memorial Day parades, and barely bothered to hide the fact that the whole thing was a shameless brand-building exercise, stamped with his corporate logo.

On Saturday, as in 2003, Beck again courted controversy—did he or did he not choose the August 28 on purpose?—and reveled in the debate over his appropriation of Civil Rights iconography. All the while he attempted to claim the highest high-ground possible, sticking to the broad and squishy themes of “faith, hope, and charity.” But as he kept up the nonpartisan façade, across town Beck’s friends and sponsors at Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-funded policy and oppo-research shop, felt no such constraints: They were just wrapping up their Defending the American Dream summit, in which participants in town for Beck phone-banked for GOP candidates.

Beck’s next scheduled project is a return to political form, just in time for midterms. In late October, he will release another sure-thing bestseller—a detailed “plan” for dismantling the modern welfare and regulatory state. That book, for which “Restoring Honor” was originally billed as a release party, is entitled Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure.

Like every other conservative jingle produced by Beck, Inc., this new troika of “trust, truth, and treasure” will be easily and rightly dismissed by his critics as a faux-patriotic coloring-book blueprint for Steve Forbes’s fantasy economy. But Beck’s success on the Mall this weekend should serve as a warning to those who would simply dismiss the former DJ and wait for history to correct the error of his national influence. When Beck unveiled his “plan” last November in Orlando, he emphasized the long-term nature of the historic task ahead. Re-founding America, he said, would require more than one generation to accomplish, possibly taking as long as 100 years. You can be sure that Beck intends to remain at the center of his crusade for as many of them as possible.

Alexander Zaitchik is a freelance journalist in New York City. He is the author of Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance.


The Canadian Medical Association has voted out a resolution to lobby against MMA's legalization in Canada.

It already has on its books a similar resolution concerning boxing.

I understand that the CMA did not engage in a comparative analysis as to injury and death in MMA compared to other sports. My understanding is that MMA stands up well in such a comparison, and not only just compared to boxing.

The CMA's oppposition is ideological, a misconceived liberalism, an instance of irrelevant moralizing. The driving impulse behind the CMA's opposition is that the aim in MMA is to inflict injury, to beat up the opponent, in order to win, just as, esssentially, though there are differences, in boxing. In other sports, injuring, beating into submission, the opponent is no part of their purpose. They have an entirely different notion of winning which does not entail that kind of physical vanquishing as such.

A problem with the CMA's position, and which marks it ludicrous, is that the CMA does not lobby against sports more physically dangerous to their participants than MMA because it finds the purposes of those sports acceptable. The CMA doesn't know, I surmise, that when the UFC brought in its new regime of rules, in July 2001, doctors and sports regulators were part of the convention that drew the new rules.

The CMA has got to get over itself. It's not our moral guardian. If it wants to act within the scope of its competence and politick on that basis, then let it. Let it bring forth evidence as to the dangers MMA poses that will withstand scrutiny and will not entangle its positions in logical absurdities.

But its recent position on MMA has done none of that.

Whither MMA

Mixed Martial Arts: Ultimate Sport, or Ultimately Illegal?

By: Donald F. Walter, Jr.


A Defense of Mixed Martial Arts

Since the sport of mixed martial arts was first introduced to the United States in 1993, it has been the subject of much heated political debate. The opponents of mixed martial arts have leveled numerous arguments against the sport, and under the leadership of Arizona Senator John McCain, they even succeeded in forcing the sport from national pay-per-view carriers, and convinced several states to ban the sport. The four year forced hiatus that the sport experienced from 1997 until 2001 was a direct result of the political onslaught headed by Senator John McCain. Though on the surface, this event may look to be a terrible set of circumstances for the sport of mixed martial arts, but in reality this hiatus allowed the sport to almost totally reinvent itself. Though the rules of the UFC had been changed prior to the sale of the franchise to Zuffa by SEG, the sport still carried much of the negative stigma that was associated with the unruly nature of the early UFCs until the sport was dropped from pay-per-view carriers for several years. When the sport reemerged in 2001, many of the sport’s greatest opponents had all but forgotten about it, which allowed it to reemerge under the political radar. This also allowed the sport to gain a new fan base and to expand its support.

A major factor in the reemergence of the sport, and the return of the sport to pay-per-view was the utilization of a new set of rules. The Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts Combat, as drafted in New Jersey, and later adopted in Nevada on July 23, 2001 were a welcome change to the sport. The new rules featured five weight classes, rounds, time limits, a list of over 31 fouls, and eight possible ways for the fight to end . This differed greatly from the rules present at the sport’s genesis in the United States, which allowed for no weight classes, no time limits, no rounds, two methods of victory, and only three fouls. In drafting the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts Combat, the commission that worked on the project had the goal of making the sport safer, and to take the sport from a spectacle into the realm of respectable sporting events.

According to John McCarthy, head referee for the UFC since UFC II, the commission looked to other combative sports for rules that the sport of mixed martial arts could incorporate. Among these sports were the accepted Olympic rules for boxing, judo and wrestling, as well as the rules for professional kickboxing, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournament rules. The primary obstacle that the commission had to overcome was that no other sport in existence permitted striking while the participants are on the ground, but this is an essential feature in mixed martial arts. Nonetheless, the commission included striking on the ground in the rules. The Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts Combat have become the standard rules of not only the UFC, but of most major mixed martial arts promotions in the United States, and have been adopted by many states, including New Jersey, Nevada, Florida, California and Louisiana.

In order to fully understand why it was necessary for the sport to adopt the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts combat, it is necessary to analyze the exact arguments that have been leveled at the sport. The sport has been called “barbaric,” and labeled as “human cockfighting.” Beginning with Calvin McCard’s opposition to the holding of UFC IIX in San Juan, Puerto Rico, politicians began to take notice of the negative aspects of the sport. Most notable among these was Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain, an avid and lifelong boxing enthusiast, was horrified when he was shown a tape of an early UFC. He sparked a letter writing campaign to prevent UFC IIX, but the event went on despite his opposition. McCain’s next target was Colorado, the intended site of UFC IX, which also went on despite strong opposition, but with new rules. Following UFC IX, John McCain targeted the cable pay-per-view providers to encourage them to drop the UFC. He encouraged Neil Henry, a personal friend of Senator McCain’s, and the owner of TCI, the pay-per-view provider that was hosting the UFC’s events to drop the UFC from his service. Senator McCain also sat on the FCC commission, which had much say over Mr. Henry’s business. Mr. Henry voiced many of the opinions that Senator McCain and other opponents of the UFC had been voicing up until that point. Mr. Henry and Senator McCain believed the sport was “too brutal,” and that “to hit a man when he was down was un-American.” Other opponents of the sport believed that the sport raised serious moral issues, in that it encouraged two participants to enter a cage, or ring and seriously injure or maim one another.

The claims against the sport that were based on the health and safety of its participants seem to be widely based on misunderstanding. First, a sort of cultural determinism seems to have influenced the opponents of the sport of mixed martial arts. Unlike Japan and Brazil where mixed martial arts have a long history of popular acceptance, American society’s only experience with a mainstream combat sport is with that of boxing. Under the Marques of Queensbury rules, boxing only permits punches thrown to the head and body, unlike mixed martial arts which permits punches and kicks to all areas of the body with the exception of the groin, neck and back of the head, as well as knees and elbow strikes, takedowns, throws, and submissions.

Also, in boxing, the participants wear large padded gloves, whereas in mixed martial arts, the participants wear only minimally padded gloves. On the surface, this would make the sport of mixed martial arts seem significantly more dangerous, but in reality, it is actually safer. The heavily padded gloves used in boxing are actually employed to protect the boxers’ hands, not their opponents’ face and body. This allows the boxer to throw more punches to the head and body of his opponent than mixed martial artists, as mixed martial arts gloves do not protect the wearer’s hands as much as boxing gloves. In addition to the lower level of padding used in mixed martial arts gloves, the greater volume of techniques that can be employed in mixed martial arts actually make the sport safer as well. In the words of professional mixed martial artist John Rallo,

“After all the goal in boxing is to punch you opponent in the head until he is unconscious. This is not the goal in our sport. There are many other ways to win. Since 1900 their have been over 1000 documented deaths in boxing. There has been 1 in MMA in 70 years. That was in Russia at an unsanctioned event. Ironically the death was caused by strikes to the head.”

Mr. Rallo’s claim about the sheer volume of deaths in the history of the sport boxing is substantiated by numerous reports, most notable of these is the Manuel Vasquez Boxing Fatality Collection. The Vasquez Collection is a documentation of all reported deaths in the sport of boxing since 1900. The list compiled by Vasquez, and continually updated since his death, now contains 1,157 names. Ironically, one such death in the sport of boxing, the 1995 death of Jimmy Garcia, was witnessed by Senator John McCain, as he sat ringside. Strangely, Senator McCain remains a fan of boxing, a sport with a marred safety record, and over 1,000 recorded deaths in a little over 100 years, but he continues to be an opponent of the sport of mixed martial arts, which has not had a serious injury in the recorded history of the sport. In comparison to many sports that are widely and popularly accepted in American culture, including football, cheerleading, hockey, boxing and basketball, mixed martial arts is relatively safe. The numerous ways in which a fight can end in a mixed martial arts event, the great deal of safety precautions taken by promoters, and the attentiveness of mixed martial arts referees, who can end the fight at any time they see fit are all reasons why there have been no serious injuries in the recorded history of sanctioned mixed martial arts events. The effect that the various ways in which a mixed martial arts fight can end have on the safety of the sport is illustrated by John Rallo in his statement that:

“…it is honorable to tap in our sport. If you quit in a boxing match you may not fight again. Look at Roberto Duran after the "no mas" match with Ray Leonard. He was looked down upon and never regained his edge after that fight. A KO is not the only means of victory. The average boxer takes several hundred blows to the head in a winning performance. In MMA I have been in fights and not even taken one punch. If you take down your opponent and finish the fight on the ground you greatly reduce the chances of being KO'ed or even hit at all. Obviously there are injuries. This is a contact sport. But the injuries are no more severe then those suffered by collegiate wrestlers or football players.”

Even in the case of mixed martial arts events that are held on Indian Reservations, or in casinos where sanctioning bodies are not present, and the events are not monitored, such as Rob Braniff’s Freestyle Fighting Championship, it is still commonplace that the methods of business, safety measures employed and the ethical measures taken far surpass the rules and regulations set out by the sanctioning bodies of outlying areas.

Another major argument against the sport of mixed martial arts is that it is immoral, and goes against the morals that are considered part of the “American way of life.” Opponents of the sport question the sport’s morality, as it requires two opponents to enter a ring or cage with the intention of hurting or injuring one another. Another moral argument against the sport is that striking a downed opponent is “un-American.” Proponents of the sport strongly disagree with these allegations. Proponents of the sport strongly disagree with these allegations. One such proponent, John McCarthy emphasizes that the fighters in mixed martial arts do not fight to inflict pain on one another, rather they fight for the sake of competition. He states that all of the fighters that he has talked to about this issue say that when they fight, it is all about the sport, and that it is more an issue of dominance, like a game of chess, rather than one of inflicting pain on another human being. In this vein, Mr. McCarthy says that the ethics of mixed martial arts are the same as those of other widely accepted sports, such as football or hockey, where inflicting pain on the competition is merely a part of the sport, not the ends of competing. Professional mixed martial artist John Rallo reinforces this. Mr. Rallo says that when he fights:

“I feel respect for my opponents. They trained just as hard to beat me as I did to beat them. You can't underestimate anyone in this sport. One mistake and the fight is over. My emotional state is probably nervous…As for getting into the ring to harm my opponent this is not true. I am getting in the ring to win the competition. Unlike boxing, I can use submissions to defeat my opponent. Since competitors can honorably tap out usually nothing more is injured then pride. If you know them well it does complicate things a bit. But it is a sport. It is not personal. After the match is over you get up shake each other’s hand and continue to be friends.”

As for the morals of the sport of mixed martial arts being un-American, this statement too is refutable. Though the United States of America was founded on the principle of religious freedom, it is quite easily recognized that the founding of the United States of America and its government had a heavy Christian influence. This manifests itself in many ways, even to this day. It can be seen in everything from American currency, which bears the statement “In God We Trust,” to the Pledge of Allegiance, which proclaims the United States of America to be “One nation under God,” and these are just two of many examples of the imprint that Judeo-Christian beliefs and morals have on the United States. Since the American way of life and the morals that comprise it have their roots in the Judeo-Christian belief system, it would be difficult for the opponents of mixed martial arts to level a moral argument against the sport, since the first book of the Holy Bible (which happens to be part of the religious scripture for not only Christian religions, but Judaism, and Islam) features a tale of a mixed martial arts style competition between Jacob and God. Genesis 32 tells the story of how Jacob grappled with God at Peniel for the duration of a night. When the night was over, Jacob had dislocated his hip, and for his refusal to submit, or “tap out” in mixed martial arts terminology, God blessed Jacob.

Currently, mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the United States of America. Its fans and participants can be found all over the country, and in all walks of life. They represent every race, creed and class of people in the United States. They are teachers, police officers, attorneys, truck drivers, accountants, laborers, ministers, soldiers, doctors, students, and family members. They are as much American as the fans and athletes involved in any other sport that is popularly and culturally accepted by the people of the United States of America. They are not savages, barbarians or criminals, nor are they a collection of social deviants and miscreants as people like John McCain would have the voting public believe. They are simply people who enjoy a sport that is misunderstood and as a result, feared and hated.

As the fan base of the sport continues to expand and grow, the sport will receive more attention as it edges closer to mainstream American culture. Currently, UFC events are covered in USA Today, and the Fox Sports Network, which has aired several fights from UFC events on its network, and ESPN airs similar competitions as part of its regular line up. It is only a matter of time before the sport of mixed martial arts is a mainstream sport which will rival boxing, but in order for the sport to gain mainstream acceptance, the public must be educated on the sport. As long as the terrible misconceptions that are associated with the sport continue to permeate society, misguided opposition to the sport will exist based on these misconceptions and irrational ideas. Only with education will the society ever fully accept the sport of mixed martial arts. Until the public can be educated, the sport will remain a fringe oddity to some members of the population, and will continue to be considered in the same vein as “extreme” sports, though it could achieve much greater things. The potential for the success of the sport exists, as evidenced by the widespread acceptance and monetary gains the sport has gained in both Japan and Brazil. It is only a matter of time before the sport of mixed martial arts sweeps the United States.

Another Take on Beck from the Conservative Intellectual Ross Douthat

Mr. Beck Goes to Washington


Entering this weekend, I was convinced that Glenn Beck’s star was about to go into eclipse.

Just as Michael Moore, amid Democratic disarray, became the unlikely face of liberal opposition to George W. Bush, the mercurial, weepy, demagogic Beck has spent the last 18 months filling the void left by the institutional collapse of the Republican Party. And just as Moore’s influence diminished as the Democrats came roaring back, it seemed plausible that Beck would matter less and less as the midterms and then the 2012 election re-empowered actual Republican politicians.

But after spending my Saturday at Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the Washington Mall, I’m beginning to think that I underestimated the man.

The Fox News host had promised that the rally, billed as a celebration of American values, would be an explicitly apolitical event. And so it came to pass: save for an occasional “Don’t Tread On Me,” banner, the crowded Mall was nearly free of political signs and T-shirt slogans, and there was barely a whisper of the crusade against liberalism that consumes most of Beck’s on-air hours.

Instead, Beck served up something considerably stranger. This was a tent revival crossed with a pep rally intertwined with a history lecture married to a U.S.O. telethon — and that was just in the first hour.

There was piety — endless piety, as speaker after speaker demanded that Americans rededicate themselves to God. There was patriotism: fund- raising for children of slain Special Forces vets, paeans to military heroism (delivered by Sarah Palin, among others), encomiums to the founding fathers. There was an awards ceremony on the theme of “Faith, Hope and Charity,” in which community-service prizes were handed out to a black minister, a Mormon businessman and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Albert Pujols. And since this was (as you may have heard) the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, there was a long tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

There was enough material, in other words, to justify almost any interpretation of the event. A Beck admirer could spin “Restoring Honor” as proof that left-wing fears about the Tea Partiers are overblown: free of rancor, racism or populist resentment, the atmosphere at the rally resembled that of a church picnic or a high school football game. But a suspicious liberal could retort that all the God-and-Christ talk and military tributes were proof enough that a sinister Christian nationalism lurked beneath the surface. (I’m sure The New York Review of Books has already commissioned an essay on that theme.)

Similarly, one could call the rally a gross affront to the memory of King, who presumably wouldn’t have cared much for Beck’s right-wing politics. But one could also call the day a strange, unlooked-for fulfillment of King’s prophecies: 47 years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, here were tens of thousands of white conservatives roaring their approval of its author.

To this rally-goer, though, the most striking thing about “Restoring Honor” was the way the pageant effortlessly tapped into the same rich vein of identity politics that has given us figures as diverse as Palin and Howard Dean, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — but did so, somehow, without advancing any explicitly political agenda.

Now more than ever, Americans love leaders who seem to validate their way of life. This spirit of self-affirmation was at work in evangelicals’ enduring support for Bush, in the enthusiasm for the Dean campaign among the young, secular and tech-savvy, and now in the devotion that Palin inspires among socially conservative women. The Obama campaign raised it to an art form, convincing voters that by merely supporting his candidacy, they were proving themselves cosmopolitan and young-at-heart, multicultural and hip.

In a sense, Beck’s “Restoring Honor” was like an Obama rally through the looking glass. It was a long festival of affirmation for middle-class white Christians — square, earnest, patriotic and religious. If a speaker had suddenly burst out with an Obama-esque “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” the message would have fit right in.

But whereas Obama wouldn’t have been Obama if he weren’t running for president, Beck’s packed, three-hour jamboree was floated entirely on patriotism and piety, with no “get thee to a voting booth” message. It blessed a particular way of life without burdening that blessing with the compromises of a campaign, or the disillusioning work of governance.

For a weekend, at least, Beck proved that he can conjure the thrill of a culture war without the costs of combat, and the solidarity of identity politics without any actual politics. If his influence outlasts the current election cycle, this will be the secret of his success.

King, Wallace, Beck and the Meaning of King's Idea of Equality

Chris Wallace Gets It Wrong

August 30, 2010 11:48 A.M. By Abigail Thernstrom // The Corner

Oh dear, I am such a fan of Chris Wallace. But, in questioning Glenn Beck this morning on Fox News Sunday, he mangled an important bit of American history. Not that Beck was much better, but I wouldn’t expect him to be.

Beck correctly described the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and early1960s as all about “equal justice.” The core of the crusade led by Martin Luther King, Jr., and of the NAACP’s legal assault on Jim Crow, was a call for color-blind treatment. Judging people by the content of their character and all that.

By 1967, it is true, King had turned his attention to quite a different cause: a Poor People’s Campaign. In 1968 he had come to Memphis to support striking black sanitation workers, and it was in Memphis, of course, that he was assassinated. His voice was thus horribly silenced at the tragically young age of thirty-nine; we do not know what path he would have taken had he lived to see the doors of racial opportunity open so dramatically in subsequent years.

On this morning’s program, Chris Wallace spoke as if the Poor People’s Campaign was the logical culmination of King’s entire life. And he declared that “the civil rights movement was always about an economic agenda.” Chris, no. This grossly oversimplifies a complex story. Thurgood Marshall was not pursuing “an economic agenda” when he argued Brown v. Board. By the time of King’s death, many who identified themselves as civil-rights crusaders were pushing for Black Power, not a fundamentally economic objective and certainly not an effort at building a coalition of poor blacks and poor whites.

And as we fumble our way towards King’s dream — with no help from the president — it’s important to remember what the movement that culminated in the great civil rights statutes of 1964 and 1965 stood for. Not equality of condition — as that notion has come to be understood — but equality of opportunity, open doors, a level playing field, blacks and whites treated equally under the law.


About that last paragraph and that last sentence: how water tight are the equality of opportunity and equality of condition arguments. As Anatole France famously said, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

On the Gap Between Policy and "Politicking"

It’s the Politicking, Stupid!

Maybe Obama needs a permanent campaign.

E.J. Dionne Jr.

August 30, 2010 | 12:00 am//TNR

Washington—President Obama's address to the nation on Iraq this week underscores the agony of his presidency, and its core political problem.

Seen from the inside, the administration is an astonishing success. Obama has kept his principal promises and can take credit for achievements that eluded his Democratic predecessors.

He pledged to have all combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this month and, as Obama will remind us on Tuesday, he's accomplished just that. Congress enacted a comprehensive health care bill and a sweeping reform of how the financial system is regulated. His rescue of the American auto industry worked, foiling predictions that he'd run GM and Chrysler as if they were arms of Chicago's Democratic machine. There are many other legislative and administrative actions that, in normal circumstances, would loom larger if these were not such exceptional—and difficult—times.

Yet the challenging nature of the times does not explain all the president's struggles. It's true that his accomplishments will have important long-term effects, even if they have not resolved the country's central concern: the continuing sluggishness of the economy.

But Obama and his party are also in a hole because the president has chosen not to engage the nation in an extended dialogue about what holds all his achievements together, or why his attitude toward government makes more sense than the scattershot conservative attacks on everything Washington might do to improve the nation's lot.

There was a revealing moment in early August when Obama told an audience at a Texas fundraiser: "We have spent the last 20 months governing. They spent the last 20 months politicking." Referring to the impending elections, he added: "Well, we can politick for three months. They’ve forgotten I know how to politick pretty good."

Obama's mistake is captured by that disdainful reference to "politicking." In a democracy, separating governing from "politicking" is impossible. "Politicking" is nothing less than the ongoing effort to persuade free citizens of the merits of a set of ideas, policies and decisions. Voters feel better about politicians who put what they are doing in a compelling context. Citizens can endure setbacks as long as they believe the overall direction of the government's approach is right.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was a genius at offering such reassurances, which is why his fireside chats are the stuff of political legend. Ronald Reagan never stopped campaigning for his conservative vision because he was determined to leave behind a thriving conservative movement. Roosevelt and Reagan both changed the country's underlying philosophical assumptions.

Despite occasional forays into this realm, Obama has created the impression that he is taking things one decision at a time, without a passion for how he would like the country to look in the long run.

He and his party are often defensive when it comes to saying what they really believe: that government, well-executed, is a positive good; that too much economic inequality is both dysfunctional and unjust; that capitalism has never worked without regulation and a strong dose of social insurance. They no longer dare talk about publicenterprise, a phrase my friend Chris Matthews reminded me of recently, visible in our great state universities, our best public schools, our road and transit systems, and in the research and development that government finances in areas where there is no immediate profit to be made.

The Obama press office, I know, can send me speeches where he has made some of these points. But the president's efforts to lay down a consistent rationale, argument and philosophy have been sporadic. He has created a vacuum, filled by the wild charges of Glenn Beck, the disappointment of progressives who emphasize what he hasn't done, and the tired "government is always the problem" rhetoric of his mainstream conservative opponents. He has thus left himself and his Democratic allies with weak defenses against a tide of economic melancholy.

It is too late to turn this election into a triumph for the administration, but not too late to salvage his party's congressional majorities. Given dismal Democratic expectations, that would now be rated as a victory. But doing so will require Obama to think anew about what "politicking" really means, to pick more than tactical fights with his adversaries, and to lay out, without equivocation or apology, where he is trying to move the country. It's just too bad he didn't start earlier.

Conrad, Say It Ain't So!

Conrad Black

Archive | Log In

August 26, 2010 4:00 A.M.
Decline, but Not Inevitable Decline
The U.S. is in deep but not irreversible trouble.

For decades, I have been a militant anti-declinist in terms of America’s place in the world. The United States is a proud, determined, hard-working, talented, patriotic nation and people, and it is not over-extended in the manner of empires of the past that took over the lands of others and eventually collapsed under the weight of the over-ambitious hegemon. Thus came the twilight of all previous empires, from the Persian to the Russian, including several versions of the Chinese, and even the astounding nautical and commercial empire of Holland, built on the acumen and enterprise in the 17th century of scarcely a million avaricious and seafaring Dutch.

But the United States merely uprooted the native Americans (to make way for imported slaves, initially) and then swamped, thinned, or drove them into Canada before the riptide of settlers moving west. It had no interest in hanging on to Cuba, unfortunately for the Cubans, or the Philippines; President Cleveland was opposed even to accepting Hawaii as a territory; and the acquisition of Alaska by Pres. Andrew Johnson was seen as a “folly” for decades. There is no immutable or irresistible force of history ringing down the curtain on America. Yet the country is in decline. It is not logical and is certainly not irreversible, but that is not entirely relevant, because it is happening anyway.

The half-century from 1939 to 1989 was a golden American strategic age, though the execution deteriorated after the early Sixties. The defeat of the Nazis and Japanese imperialists — with the Russians taking most of the casualties; Germany, France, Italy, and Japan joining the West as flourishing democratic allies; and the Soviets being compensated with rather second-rate and restive strategic acquests — was followed by the containment of Communism, which caused the Soviet Union to implode and encouraged China to become a teeming hive of state capitalism, with no fire exchanged between the major protagonists.

As this was happening, the seeds of future problems were being scattered. The U.S. — dragging, by its magnetic influence, the whole Western world behind it — became a service economy, where comparatively little that was useful was actually produced or done, and a trillion dollars was spent annually in legal fees. Millions of unskilled laborers were allowed to enter the country illegally as millions of low-skilled jobs were outsourced. Trillions were borrowed from China and Japan to buy cheap manufactures from China, luxury goods from Japan and Western Europe, and oil at ever-rising prices and in steadily larger quantities, much of it from the chief sponsors of terrorism. Respected Federal Reserve chairmen and Treasury secretaries put the U.S economy into a power dive, as the annual current-account deficit topped $800 billion, the oil price bracketed $100, gold (the canary in the mineshaft) shot over $1,000, and, in pursuit of increased family homeownership, interest rates were brought and held down, saving eliminated, and trillions of dollars of worthless mortgage-related debt were issued, rated as investment grade, and peddled all over the world in an orgiastic St. Vitus’s Dance.

The great U.S. economy, a stupefying engine of productivity and applied talent, became a mighty Ponzi scheme, as the whole nation, addicted to debt-paid instant gratification, spent the future on consumption and non-durable assets. Except for a few academic flakes, no one — business, government, academia, the financial press — saw what was coming. And so there is no obvious body of vindicated opinion to take over now; it is a terrible and vacuous crisis of leadership. And courage fled, arm-in-arm, with official judgment. The Congress and successive administrations ignored illegal immigration until border-state frictions made it an explosive issue, and have failed to address it seriously since. They ignored abortion, leaving it to the ill-qualified bench to determine when the unborn attain the rights of a person. They ignored income disparity, until the recession stared to shrink the disparity by reducing everyone’s net worth, and they ignore the debt bomb. Annual increases of $750 billion to $1.4 trillion in the money supply stretching forward a decade will destroy the currency and Weimarize America, and there is not a hint of an official preventive response. The Keynesian injection of spending has been shot, in a hare-brained stimulus package designed by cynical Democratic congressional-committee chairmen. The recession is still here, and most tax increases and spending reductions are hazardous to economic growth. No one leads and no one knows.

The bizarreries of modern American foreign policy began when the Kennedy-Johnson Democrats plunged into Vietnam, mismanaged the war, and insisted on inflicting a crushing defeat on America after Richard Nixon had brought a durable non-Communist South Vietnam within reach; and then, for good measure, they crucified Richard Nixon, the most successful president between Roosevelt and Reagan. Johnson allowed the USSR to pull even with the U.S. in nuclear arsenals, on the theory that this would facilitate serious arms-control discussions. It didn’t. Nixon revived American superiority through technological advances, called “nuclear sufficiency,” and arms control did make unprecedented progress at SALT 1. President Carter generously threw out America’s greatest ally in the Middle East, the Shah of Iran, “like a dead mouse,” in the words of his national-security adviser, and acknowledged that he had “learned a lot about” the Kremlin from Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. Having secured the grudging agreement of the Western Europeans to deployment of the neutron warhead, he then unilaterally declined to deploy it, which doubtless told the Kremlin (and our NATO allies) a lot about Jimmy Carter too.

Ronald Reagan produced the golden Indian summer of American grand strategy. His brilliant poker playing bankrupted the USSR with the non-nuclear SDI missile-defense concept, which was ridiculed on the U.S. center-left as an unworkable boondoggle (which was irrelevant since he didn’t actually try to build it) and abhorrent to most of America’s so-called allies, who wished the tightest possible strategic balance between the U.S. and the USSR to confer on themselves the maximum influence for the least effort. President Bush Sr. rightly and very effectively ejected Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, but left him in place in Baghdad. And President Clinton imposed irritating but ineffectual embargoes on India and Pakistan because they had the temerity to develop nuclear weapons. George W. Bush had perfectly adequate international-law arguments to dispose of Saddam Hussein and did the world a favor by doing so, but his attempt at nation-building mired almost all of America’s ground-forces military capability in Iraq for most of his term and hundreds of billions of dollars were wasted by the blundering of the Pentagon and the tinkerers sent to remake an ancient land.

President Obama has completely fumbled the discouragement of Iran’s nuclear program, while the U.S. beseeches the assistance of the Russians and Chinese in the imposition of porous sanctions on Iran. China operates North Korea like a mischievous robot bedeviling the world (to the assumed amusement of the ghost of Douglas MacArthur), and the U.S is on both sides of the War on Terror, assisting the Saudis (who finance jihadism) and the Pakistanis (who maintain terrorist factions in Afghanistan). Iraq, the war Obama opposed and Senate majority leader Harry Reid declared to be lost three years ago, is now pronounced a success by Vice President Biden, whose endorsement is the most worrisome danger signal around, as he is always mistaken. (Remember, he plagiarized from one of the most unsuccessful political leaders in modern British history, Neil Kinnock, the blood-curdling plaint that he was “the first Biden in a thousand generations to go to a university.”) George W.’s war is more or less working now, after lasting longer than America’s participation in the two World Wars combined, and Obama’s (Afghanistan) isn’t. The factions and allies are running for cover because the president said we would be out next year. It is now a mess of eels associated with more or less amenable members of the Taliban, not a united anti-Taliban front. The president said, “Words must mean something,” in Prague, on the subject of arms control, but his never do. (And arms control is about to degenerate into universal nuclear military capacity if Iran can deliver a nuclear warhead.)

What is needed is a colossal reorientation of the country away from consumption and toward investment, the cleaning out of the morass of the plea-bargain justice system and attendant vacuum cleaners of the legal and prison industries (and the gigantic fraud of the War on Drugs), drastic education reform, genuine health-care reform, a redefinition of U.S. national interests in the world to what is essential and defensible, and then restructured alliances to reflect shared interests. Until those issues are addressed, all talk of the American superpower is rubbish. Obama’s is the fourth consecutive failed administration, and each succeeding one will make the festering problems more dangerous and difficult. As the problem is misdirection, not internal degeneracy or imperial overreach, it is a decline that will end in recovery, not a fall. It is like a non-terminal illness: America awaits a correct diagnosis, a curative plan, and a competent professional to supervise the recovery. The patient knows there is a problem and wants the cure. To paraphrase FDR, all that is missing is Dr. Comeback.

Another Essay by Gerecht

1. Gerecht:

Moderate Muslims Are Not the Answer

Reuel Marc Gerecht August 25, 2010 | 12:00 am /TNR

The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait recently underscored a view about Islamic militancy versus the West that is widely held on both the left and right and should be challenged. To quote Mr. Chait:

It is precisely because radicalism is so pervasive and powerful within the Muslim world that it is so vital to cultivate people like [Imam Faisal Abdul] Rauf. Cultivating dissidents within Islam against murderous sectarianism is a primary task in our fight against al-Qaeda….we are fighting a war for the hearts and minds of non-radical Muslims, and the Park 51 uproar is helping drive potential allies into the arms of the enemy. It is madness.

Are religious moderates really the key to our battle against jihadists and their sympathizers? (I’ll ignore, for now, Mr. Chait’s suggestion that moderate Muslims are so fragile in their moderation that Newt Gingrich’s triumph in the “Park 51” battle would turn them into jihadist sympathizers, eager to see Americans again vaporized and burned alive.) Are our actions—at least the “cultivation” of Muslim moderates—so pivotal in this struggle? I’m not so sure.

Islamic radicalism isn’t a new phenomenon, although the militancy that we’ve seen grow in the Muslim world since World War II has a different cause—modernity’s relentless and merciless advance—than the irruptions in the past. But the galvanizing sentiments of militants today probably aren’t that different from what drove their predecessors to rebellion. The Franco-Tunisian author Abdelwahab Meddeb, who wrote an insightful and sympathetic book about the Muslim world’s travails, La Maladie de l’Islam (“The Sickness within Islam”), put it succinctly: Le monde islamique n’a cessé d’être l’inconsolé de sa destitution (“The Islamic world has remained inconsolable about its fall”).

Whether we go back to Islam’s first rebels, the Khawarij, whose most extreme foot-soldiers, the Azariqa, murdered Muslim women and children without compunction since Muslims who imperfectly practiced the faith could be lawfully killed, or to the numerous Shiite rebellions that punctuate Islamic history like volcanoes on fault lines, or to the Christian-crushing, Islamic-high-culture-pulverizing Almoravid and Almohad fundamentalist explosions in North Africa and Spain between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, or to the Saudi-Wahhabi irruptions between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, or to the Mahdist revolt in Sudan in the nineteenth century, or to Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1978-79 and its Sunni aftershocks, of which Al Qaeda is the most lethal, we see devout Muslims who believe their world is in an ethical free fall.

What was once pure and powerful has become dissolute and subservient. A community that was once led by the Prophet Muhammad—the best of all men—is now led by despots who neither preach nor practice virtue (or most abominably in modern times, ape infidels). The most basic question for a believer in heaven and hell—salvation—has often been behind all the violence.

Although the primary material for critical periods of Islamic history isn’t what it ideally should be, we can probably safely say that the moral suasion of “moderate Muslims,” whatever they were at any given time, did not turn back Islam’s many radical movements. The armies of establishment-loving Sunni caliphs and sultans, the bloody excesses and spiritual intensity of militant causes, and occasionally the military might of foreigners have been the critical factors in thwarting the triumph of those who felt, profoundly, the pulse of an angry God. Modern times have certainly intensified the speed and depth of the circulation of ideas and, therefore, the role of intellectuals (the Islamic world, unlike the multilingual, constantly warring states of Christendom, has always had a big, powerful pump—the annual Hajj pilgrimage—pushing ideas via the universal religious language, Arabic, through the Islamic community).

But this circulation has probably worked much more effectively for those who wanted to challenge orthodoxy than those who want to reinforce it. Moderate Muslims—hereby defined as those who just want to get on with their lives—have never been intellectually compelling, at least for those who like to read and write. It’s a good historical guess that the experience of the Hajj—a believer’s contact with a sea of faithful Muslims, stripped down to the most basic white clothing and literally walking in the footsteps of the prophet—makes fundamentalism’s powerful, fraternal critique of modernity tempting to the faithful.

Having the Saudis, whose “pristine” Wahhabi doctrine is at war with the beauty and complexity of historic Islamic culture, as the rulers of Mecca and Medina also has not helped. (Meddeb’s book is notable, for it is one of the rare books written by a Muslim who explores the catastrophic damage of Saudi influence in the Islamic world.) In the past, Sufism did heavy lifting in challenging Islam’s dispensation for righteous militancy (although Sufism, too, as the Shiite Safavid triumph in sixteenth-century Iran shows, could be enlisted into rebellion).

But Sufism then was deeply mystical and paid homage to believers’ never-ending love affair with magical men, whose guidance brings transcendence. Sufism today, as Feisal Abd Al Rauf’s Sufi-lite writings clearly reveal, has lost much of its beauty and mysticism (unless you visit a New Age Western book shop, where Sufism remains as appealing as herbal tea).

The real truth about Rauf is that—despite the best efforts of his American champions and detractors—he is irrelevant. It’s a good guess that if Rauf’s writings become better known in the Muslim world, and the controversy surrounding the proposed Ground Zero mosque propel him from obscurity to literary fame, he’ll become irrelevant and disliked. His occasional theme about an American Islam saving the Muslim world from its many maladies may make him popular among Muslim Americans, who probably didn’t need Rauf to enumerate the advantages they have in the United States, but it’s unlikely to gain friends in the Middle East, where Muslims tend to be a bit proprietary about their faith.

Rauf has redressed an idea that became popular among European intellectuals in the 1990s that a more moderate European Islam would spread from the Continent across the Mediterranean and through Turkey into the Islamic heartlands, eventually paving the way for a less troubled integration of Islam and modernity. This theory hasn’t so far panned out, and European scholars who once believed in the possibility of such a mission civilsatrice for Muslim immigrants were always careful about expressing such views at colloquies and dinner parties among Muslims over there.

Fortunately, there are powerful moderating forces within the Islamic world. Probably the three most important are:

(1) Fallen radical Muslims. Moderate Muslims may not be intellectually competitive for those who are tempted by militancy and jihad, but fallen radical Muslims are. As more and more militants renounce their former passions—and we’ve got a rivulet among the Sunnis and an ocean among the Shiites—they develop a critique that translates well across borders and languages. And the Iranian example, here, is illustrative: The United States’s principal contribution to Iran’s war of ideas, which has produced a second intellectual revolution among Iranians (the Green Movement is a political byproduct of this astonishing religious transformation), was to just stand firm against Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamism and to offer refuge to Iranian dissidents. This was not an insignificant contribution to Iran’s internal tumult; lay and religious Iranians, however, did most of the heavy lifting. Iran’s fallen revolutionaries are creating a society that ruthlessly critiques itself. Although not dead for the country’s ruling elite, jihadism has vanished among most of the country’s faithful, who were once the most committed holy warriors in the region.

(ii) The spread of democratic ideas throughout the Middle East. The appeal of democracy in the greater Middle East has not diminished with the end of the Bush presidency. Among both Muslim liberals and fundamentalists, it has become the standard for challenging the status quo. Democracy among faithful Muslims is a complex and at times contradictory discussion, but the competitiveness inherent in democratic discussions has had a significant effect on how Muslims in the Middle East conceive of the idea of legitimate government. Osama bin Laden and his more intellectual sidekick, Ayman Al Zawahiri, loath democracy among Muslims. They should. Once it takes hold, once Muslims as a religious community start debating ethics and governance, their critique of the world becomes nonsensical.

And last but not least, (iii) America’s wars in the Middle East, but especially the war in Iraq. There has probably been no single event, including September 11 and the subsequent bombings in London, Madrid, and elsewhere in the Middle East, that has caused more moral indigestion in the Arab world. The horrors unleashed by Al Qaeda in Iraq and its allies, especially the slaughter of Shiite women and children, have made many Sunni Arabs reflect seriously on jihadism, which had an abstract appeal to many secular and religious Muslims when the casualties were primarily Americans and Israelis (or just Jews in general). Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan (Afghanistan is geographically and culturally far away from the Arab Middle East) have made the abstract more real since Muslims, even if disreputable Iraqi Shiites, have been the main victims. Historically, it has been wars and civil strife, not elderly white-haired intellectuals having feel-good interfaith dialogues with middle-class Westerners and Arabs, that have probably done the most damage to the call of jihadists. When George W. Bush invaded Iraq he most certainly did not intend to break Al Qaeda’s back, but this war, more than anything else, has helped to neutralize the appeal of bin Ladenism, at least among the Arabs.

For a variety of reasons, it’s good to read Rauf’s books and to debate his message and the propriety of the “Park 51 mosque.” But among those reasons should not be an assumption that moderate Muslim intellectuals are an essential element in our battle against jihadism. Good men and women that they may be, they are just too far from the furnace that forged our enemies.

2. Me:

I think I'm reading Gerecht differently than most of people commenting here.

I don't take him *here* to be justifying the Iraq war on the basis that it spread democracy or weakened the bonds of Islamofascism. I take him to be saying that, justification aside, consequences--including unintended ones-- of the war included loosening the Middle East grip of Islamofascism by: revealing Al Qaeda intra Muslim brutality particularly, citing Gerecht, in “the slaughter of Shiite women and children”; and leading to the possibility of democracy in Iraq. These are points ii and iii of his enumeration of the most powerful moderating forces in Islam. The debate about these points on this thread relating to justification is misconceived insofar as Gerecht’s argument is concerned.

I agree with Gerecht that the argument for the Community Centre near ground zero based on how the issue will be perceived in places where Jihadi recruitment is the most intense is not the strongest amongst the arguments pro the project. But then I would not discount that argument to the extent that Gerecht does. These are not mutually exclusive points.

I strongly disagree with Gerecht, as I read him, however, in his downplaying of the importance of the Community Center issue as far as America itself is concerned. Gerecht is almost patronizing in that discounting:

…For a variety of reasons, it’s good to read Rauf’s books and to debate his message and the propriety of the “Park 51 mosque.” But among those reasons should not be an assumption that moderate Muslim intellectuals are an essential element in our battle against jihadism. Good men and women that they may be, they are just too far from the furnace that forged our enemies. ...

Gerecht misses the essential importance of a figure such as Rauf, the notion of Muslim outreach and the symbolic meanings emanating from the project’s controversy to American Muslims’ hearts and minds. It is vital that Muslims in all developed countries perceive: that they are integrated into the public spaces and in those public accorded equal rights under law; and that they are respected in the private spaces of their own beliefs. While what can radiate outwards from such solicitude to the social cauldrons where Jihadism cooks most fiercely and seeks to replenish itself most fervently should not be naively overestimated, it’s not to be gainsaid either. Again nothing binary here. And, in the meantime, what radiates outward within countries which are lawfully obliging to, and generously respectful of, their own Muslim citizens is profoundly essential to keeping radicalism and hence terrorism at bay and hence their own societies more peaceful and stable.

Finally, while the arguments for the project can separate legality from appropriateness--"They can, but should they?"--that separation isn't watertight. Because what does the recognition by powerful opposition of a "perfectly legal right" mean, when that powerful opposition uses every means at its disposal to obstruct the realization of that right?

Not so much, in my book.

Lovely and Interesting Essay by Tony Judt on his King's College Days


August 19, 2010

Tony Judt NYR

I came up to King’s College, Cambridge, in 1966. Ours was a—perhaps the—transitional generation. We were past the midpoint of the 1960s—the Mods had come and gone and the Beatles were about to record Sgt. Pepper—but the King’s into which I was matriculated was still strikingly traditional. Dinner in Hall was formal, begowned—and required. Undergraduates took their seats, awaited the arrival of the Fellows, then rose to watch a long line of elderly gentlemen shuffle past them on their way to High Table.

“Elderly” here is no relative term. Led by (former provost) Sir John Shepherd (born 1881), the Emeritus Fellows typically included Sir Frank Adcock (born 1886), E.M. Forster (born 1879), and others equally venerable. One was made immediately aware of the link between a generation of young men born into the postwar welfare state and the world of late-Victorian King’s: the age of Forster, Rupert Brooke, and John Maynard Keynes, exuding a cultural and social self-confidence to which we could never aspire. The old men seemed to blend seamlessly into the fading portraits on the walls above: without anyone making a point of it, continuity was all about us.

And yet, we were a path-breaking cohort. By the time we graduated, gowns, caps, gate hours, and a whole rulebook of minor regulations—all of them in place when we arrived—were the object of amused nostalgia. In my first term, an enthusiastic if mediocre rugby player, I took the team bus to Oxford to play (and lose to) New College. We got back late, courtesy of a half-successful attempt to dismantle one of our host’s urinals, and some late autumn fog. I arrived at the entrance to my hostel: it was locked—and I had no “late pass.” A flurry of stones succeeded in waking up a friend, who came down utterly petrified: “Don’t let the warden hear you!” It goes without saying that this story would be hard to explain to a King’s student today; but it would have been equally implausible to someone who arrived two years after us. The change came suddenly.

King’s prided itself on the enthusiasm with which it embraced change and radical disruption. The senior tutor of the day would explain to freshmen that locked gates and disciplinary regulations should be regarded with a wink and a nod. This seemed a little rough on the porters and hostel wardens who were responsible for enforcing them—an early introduction to the subtlety of social rank at Cambridge: middle-class bohemians themselves in outlook if not lifestyle, most college officers smiled benignly upon breaches of the rules they were expected to uphold.

The college was also responsible for the appalling new student bar installed shortly after we arrived. Abreast of contemporary style in all things, the Fellows approved a design that resembled nothing so much as the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport—and was chosen for just that reason: King’s (founded in 1441) was not to dwell on its heritage, especially now that it had so many young men for whom the upper-class milieu of Oxbridge meant nothing. As one of those “new” Kingsmen—the first person in my family to complete secondary school, much less attend university—I can say that I would have far preferred the stuffed ambience of a nineteenth-century gentlemen’s club to the ersatz classlessness of the bar. Fortunately this experiment was not representative. The college maintained sufficient self-confidence to offer its students a reassuring sense of continuity and identity.

To me, a South Londoner who had never been north of Leicester, our generation of Kingsmen was not just socially mixed but geographically heterogeneous. For the first time I met boys from the Wirral, Yorkshire, Tyneside, East Anglia, and the Celtic fringe. To a remarkable degree, they were—like me—the upwardly mobile products of selective state schools without fees: we had the 1944 Butler Education Act to thank for our presence in Cambridge, although for some of us the social gulf to be bridged was substantial indeed. The mother of John Bentley, the first boy to attend Kings from a comprehensive school,1 explained to my parents at our graduation party that whenever people on her street asked where her son was and what he was doing, she was tempted to reply that he was “back in Borstal”2:: a more convincing and ultimately respectable answer than confessing that he was punting girls around on the Cambridge Backs.

Somewhere else in the college there surely lurked enclaves of elite private school boys; perhaps they were in the majority? But I only ever became closely acquainted with one such person—my neighbor Martyn Poliakoff, great-grandnephew of the Poliakoff who built the Russian railways, a spiky-haired eccentric out of Westminster School who went on to secure a CBE, Fellowship of the Royal Society, and deserved renown as a popularizer of chemistry to young people. Hardly your typical toff.

My King’s was the very incarnation of meritocratic postwar Britain. Most of us got where we were by doing well in exams and, to a striking extent, we pursued occupations that reflected our early talents and interests. The cohort of Kingsmen who came up in 1966 stand out in their choice of careers: more than any group before or since, we opted for education, public service, the higher reaches of journalism, the arts, and the unprofitable end of the liberal professions.

It is thus altogether appropriate that the most promising economist of our generation—Mervyn King—should have ended up as the governor of the Bank of England, rather than an investment banker or hedge funder. Before our time, talented Kingsmen doubtless followed similar paths. But a glance at the obituaries of an older generation reveals just how many of them returned to the family business or to the traditional professions of their fathers and grandfathers.

As for those who came after, it is depressing to record how quickly and in what numbers the graduates of the 1970s and since resorted to the world of private banking, commerce, and the more remunerative reaches of the law. Perhaps one should not blame them; in our time, jobs were still plentiful and we could bask in the waning rays of postwar prosperity. All the same, it’s very clear that our elective affinities lay elsewhere.

I used to ask my contemporaries why they opted for King’s. A surprising number had no clear response: they just picked it by name, because they admired the chapel or because it sounded distinctive. A handful—mostly economists—said it was because of Keynes. But I was directed to apply to King’s for very specific reasons. A rebel at school—I dropped out in the second year of the 6th form—I was tartly assured by my teachers that no other college in Oxbridge would give me the time of day. But King’s, they seemed to feel, was sufficiently oddball to find me a congenial candidate. I have no idea whether any other college would have considered my application; fortunately, I never had to find out.

College teaching was idiosyncratic. Most of my supervisors—John Saltmarsh, Christopher Morris, and Arthur Hibbert—were obscure, published little, and known only to generations of Kingsmen. Thanks to them I acquired not just a patina of intellectual self-confidence, but abiding respect for teachers who are indifferent to fame (and fortune) and to any consideration outside the supervision armchair.

We were never taught with the specific aim of performing well on the Tripos—the Cambridge final examinations. My supervisors were supremely uninterested in public performance of any sort. It was not that they were indifferent to exam results; they simply took it for granted that our natural talent would carry us through. It’s hard to imagine such people today, if only because they would be doing the college a profound financial disservice in the face of the Research Assessment Exercise, whereby the British government assesses “academic output” and disburses funds accordingly.

Perhaps I am ill-placed to assess the 1960s in King’s. I went on to do graduate work there and held a fellowship for six years, before decamping for Berkeley in 1978: my memories are side-shadowed by later developments. The King’s of Noel Annan—provost from 1956 to 1966—was giving way to that of Edmund Leach (1966–1979), an internationally renowned anthropologist of the Levi-Strauss school. The unmediated self-confidence of the Annan generation3 would be replaced by a certain ironic distance: you never quite felt with Provost Leach that he cared deeply or believed implicitly in the college as a repository of all that was best in Edwardian liberal dissent. For him it was just another myth ripe for the unraveling.

But what Leach did stand for—more than Annan and certainly more than the intellectually undistinguished John Shepherd—was pure smarts: an emphasis further accentuated when Leach was succeeded by the incomparable Bernard Williams. I served for a while as a very junior member on the College Fellowship Electors with Williams, John Dunn, Sydney Brenner (the Nobel Prize winner in medicine), Sir Frank Kermode, Geoffrey Lloyd (the historian of ancient science), and Sir Martin Rees (the Astronomer Royal). I have never lost the sense that this was learning: wit, range, and above all the ability (as Forster put it in another context) to connect.

My greatest debt, though I did not fully appreciate it at the time, was to Dunn, then a very young college Research Fellow, now a distinguished professor emeritus. It was John who—in the course of one extended conversation on the political thought of John Locke—broke through my well-armored adolescent Marxism and first introduced me to the challenges of intellectual history. He managed this by the simple device of listening very intently to everything I said, taking it with extraordinary seriousness on its own terms, and then picking it gently and firmly apart in a way that I could both accept and respect.

That is teaching. It is also a certain sort of liberalism: the kind that engages in good faith with dissenting (or simply mistaken) opinions across a broad political spectrum. No doubt such tolerant intellectual breadth was not confined to King’s. But listening to friends and contemporaries describe their experiences elsewhere, I sometimes wonder. Lecturers in other establishments often sounded disengaged and busy, or else professionally self-absorbed in the manner of American academic departments at their least impressive.

There is more of that in King’s today than there used to be. As in so many other respects, I think our generation was fortunate: we got the best of both worlds. Promoted on merit into a class and culture that were on their way out, we experienced Oxbridge just before the fall—for which I confess that my own generation, since risen to power and office, is largely responsible.

For forty years, British education has been subjected to a catastrophic sequence of “reforms” aimed at curbing its elitist inheritance and institutionalizing “equality.” The havoc wrought in higher education was well summarized by Anthony Grafton in this magazine,4 but the worst damage has been at the secondary level. Intent upon destroying the selective state schools that afforded my generation a first-rate education at public expense, politicians have foisted upon the state sector a system of enforced downward uniformity.

The result, predicted from the outset, was that the selective private schools (“public schools”) have flourished. Desperate parents pay substantial fees to exempt their children from dysfunctional state schools; universities are under inordinate pressure to admit underqualified candidates from the latter and have lowered their admissions standards accordingly; each new government has instituted reforms aimed at compensating for the failed “initiatives” of their predecessors.

Today, when the British government mandates that 50 percent of high school graduates should attend university, the gap separating the quality of education received by the privately schooled minority from that of everyone else is greater than at any time since the 1940s. They consistently outperform their state-educated peers—a dirty little secret that no one cares to acknowledge but that panicked New Labour governments. It does seem curious to curse the private schools for thriving in a market while enthusiastically rewarding bankers for doing so.

Successive education ministers have authorized and encouraged “academies”—furtively reintroducing (with the help of private money) the very process of selection of whose abolition on egalitarian grounds they once so proudly boasted. Meanwhile, we now have more private school graduates in the British cabinet than for decades past (seventeen at my count)—and the first old Etonian prime minister since 1964. Perhaps we should have stuck with meritocracy.

On my occasional return trips to Cambridge, I am struck by the air of doubt and decline. Oxbridge has certainly not resisted the demagogic vogue: what began as ironic self-mockery in the 1970s (“Here at King’s we have five hundred years of rules and traditions but we don’t take them very seriously, Ha! Ha!”) has become genuine confusion. The earnest self-interrogatory concern with egalitarianism that we encountered in 1966 appears to have descended into an unhealthy obsession with maintaining appearances as the sort of place that would never engage in elitist selection criteria or socially distinctive practices of any kind.

I’m not sure that there is anything to be done about this. King’s, like much else in contemporary Britain, has become a heritage site. It celebrates an inheritance of dissidence, unconvention, and unconcern for hierarchy: look at us—aren’t we different. But you cannot celebrate your qualities of uniqueness unless you have a well-grounded appreciation of what it was that gave them distinction and value. Institutions need substantive traditions and I fear that King’s—like Oxbridge at large—has lost touch with its own.

I suspect that all this began precisely in those transitional years of the mid-1960s. We, of course, understood nothing of that. We got both the traditions and the transgressions; the continuities and the change. But what we bequeathed to our successors was something far less substantial than what we ourselves had inherited (a general truth about the baby- boom generation). Liberalism and tolerance, indifference to external opinion, a prideful sense of distinction accompanying progressive political allegiances: these are manageable contradictions, but only in an institution unafraid to assert its particular form of elitism.

Universities are elitist: they are about selecting the most able cohort of a generation and educating them to their ability—breaking open the elite and making it consistently anew. Equality of opportunity and equality of outcome are not the same thing. A society divided by wealth and inheritance cannot redress this injustice by camouflaging it in educational institutions—by denying distinctions of ability or by restricting selective opportunity—while favoring a steadily widening income gap in the name of the free market. This is mere cant and hypocrisy.

In my generation we thought of ourselves as both radical and members of an elite. If this sounds incoherent, it is the incoherence of a certain liberal descent that we intuitively imbibed over the course of our college years. It is the incoherence of the patrician Keynes establishing the Royal Ballet and the Arts Council for the greater good of everyone, but ensuring that they were run by the cognoscenti. It is the incoherence of meritocracy: giving everyone a chance and then privileging the talented. It was the incoherence of my King’s and I was fortunate to have experienced it.

1. The recently introduced nonselective secondary schools that were soon to become universal and were intended by the Labour government of the time to replace all selective state education.↩

2. A reform school for criminal adolescents.↩

3. See Noel Annan, Our Age: English Intellectuals Between the World Wars—A Group Portrait (Random House, 1990), an uncommonly self-confident account of a generation not yet stricken by self-questioning. ↩

4. Anthony Grafton, "Britain: The Disgrace of the Universities," The New York Review, April 8, 2010.↩

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dinner For Schmucks

“Dinner for Schmucks” is based on a 12-year-old French movie known in English as “The Dinner Game.” It walks between nasty and sweet, balancing the crude, rude humor of humiliation with an affirming message: humane understanding.

The movie is funny. Consider Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) as a pompous, surreal artist; Zach Galifianakis as an I.R.S. flunky who believes he can control other minds; Lucy Punch as a lovestruck stalker, an uhinged Courtney Love. They help drive the movie along its meandering, offbeat path toward a wild climax followed by a softer, loving reconciliation.

"Dinner" has an erratic rhythm and is never dull. Tim (Paul Rudd), an analyst at a private equity firm, tries for his boss's attention (Bruce Greenwood) and to run with the office sharks. Tim wants a big promotion; he wants to marry his girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak); and he wants to have his aggressive business side to coexist with his nice guy side.

The tension in Tim between being successful and being humane underlies the movie. The boss and his disciples invite Tim to a regular dinner to which eccentrics — described as “idiots” and “losers”, ostensibly the movie's schmucks — are invited to be ridiculed while they think they’re being honored. Tim is appalled--"That's messed up." But then he meets Barry Speck (Steve Carell), ostensibly the biggest loser in L.A. Has God given him this gift and way forward to career success?

Wearing what look like prosthetic teeth Carell plays a man utterly clueless about his impression on the world. Barry, an IRS bureaucrat whose makes dioramas out of dead mice, is both a naif and relentlessly pushy. His simple mindedness and vulnerability inspire a protective instinct in Tim, even as Barry’s habit of farcically messing up everything in Tim’s life inspires some cruelty.

We are revulsed by Barry's intrusive nerdiness throughout much of "Dinner" and then are drawn to him to him increasingly. We are with him especially at the final reversal when the true schmucks are revealed. At the same time, by the time of the reversal, Tim’s humaneness--the nice guy in him--wins. Carrell puts together being obnoxious, stupid, endearing, finally intelligent, sensitive and a real and forgiving friend.

“Dinner for Schmucks” isn't near great. But it's very funny throughout while being bittersweet and while at times turning maudlin. People stumble and fall; many things break; break, odd characters speak strangely; weird accents abound; so do bizarre misunderstandings. But within the broadly drawn lines and in the midst of the farce comes a a real sense of Barry's pathos, which lends the relentness comedy some humanity.

Three out of five.

"Righteous & Wrong": My Answer to Ruthven on Berman and Ali

1. Ruthven:


2. me:

Here's a key passage in this essay:

...Revisiting several well-known episodes in the Ramadan story, he (Berman) dwells on the famous television debate with Nicolas Sarkozy...when Ramadan refused to condemn outright the stoning of adulterous women, arguing instead for a "moratorium" on the practice followed by a comprehensive "debate." Berman sees the episode as a pivotal moment in Ramadan's career"

" Some six million people watched that exchange. A huge number of Muslim immigrants must have been among them--the very people who might have benefited from hearing a prestigious and articulate public figure speak with absolute clarity about violence against women. Ramadan was not up to it...The seventh century had suddenly appeared...A moment of barbarism."

Buruma...suggests...that Ramadan's position represents a stage toward secularization. By leaving a religious law for discussion without applying it, he is effectively dissociating religious doctrine from religious or social practice...a "moratorium" maintains orthodoxy while enabling the believer to live in a society governed by laicite.' (Olivier Roy) Roy's position is evidently based on the idea that consensus--one of the four canonical "roots" of Islamic law--is a precondition for change, a view Berman fails to consider...

In this passage from Ruthven's essay is, writ small, a flaw that pervades much of his argument. The issue is exactly the rationalization of Ramadan's refusal outright to condemn THE STONING OF ADULTEROUS WOMEN. The argument made by Ruthven, Buruma, Roy and Ramadan is that there is an efficacy in intra Muslim debate to end stoning rather than coming outright against it by a highly celebrated, influential Muslim voice. That rationale fits with another criticism of Berman by Ruthven: his ignoring the forces of kinship, clan and deep tradition--"custom"-- as sources for the barbarities of stoning and clitoral mutilation among others, all continuous with the utter, and virtually unimaginable, suppression of women. Both that rationalization and the highlighting of kin, clan and custom go as well to Ruthven's crticism of Hirsi Ali. Namely:

...Her story (in Nomad) may resonate with many able and intelligent women from Europe's immigrant communities who find themselves in similar situations. But it is not a path that all will wish to emulate. The power of clan and custom...is rooted in human affections as well as patriarchal authority...

So this is what these criticisms come to: one must be muted about stoning adulterous women, sotto voce, in the interest of promoting internal debate as a means to eradicate incrementally this barbarity.

This is preposterous. Who will debate? How amenable to reason and dispassionate argument are the stoners and their favourers? In Islam's tribal bowels where ignorance and superstition reign supreme--the concomitants of custom, kinship and clan--who is listening to, reading about, aware even, of Ramadan? This is the argument: debating seventh century barbarism. The stoning of adulterous women needs no sotto voce debate. Debating barbarity makes an incredible mockery of debating. These issues need strong, forceful voices of (charismatic, would help) leaders compellingly clear in their unambiguous refutation of these barbarities. Needed are international pressure and internal and external pressure and influence on regimes abetting such practices to end them. European Muslims must hear these compelling, outspoken, unequivocal voices.

Reformation must come top down where the masses aren't going to takes part in debates on barbarity, top down from governments, institutions, religious leaders, cultural leaders, educators, the press, intellectuals, politicians, generically anyone who can help shape people's attitudes and break the backs of clan, custom and kinship--generically the kinds of people a Hirsi Ali can reach.

For such a voice is Hirsi Ali's. If she can affect educated Muslim women in Europe and anywhere else her voice is heard and read, then she will have been successful in mitigating Islamism. How obtuse is the criticism of her that she provides no path to women trapped in the very bowels of custom, clan and kinship ridden societies, that all will not want to emulate her. Set a purpose and goal that Ali does not set for herself--she is writing for those with eyes and minds to read her--and then criticize her for not satisfying that extraneous purpose and goal.

Berman, not a Muslim of course, is another clear, compelling and unambiguous voice who does not shy away from hard and large questions and who calls the Islamofascist spade the Islamosfascist spade that it is.

What a contrast: Berman's and Ali's voices, each in their own way clarion clear and clarion calling as against the attenuated shuffling of a Ramadan, a Buruma, a Ruthven, a Garton Ash. To whom does trahison des clercs attach, indeed?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Life Behind Bars

I'm leaving today for Kingston, Ontario with my running buddy and Associate James W. Rose to hear the blues at the Kingston Blues Festival.

Kingston is the home of world famous Kingston Penitentiary.

That reminds of the years of my misspent youth behind bars--principally the Capri Lounge on Highway 49 just between Sodom and Gomorrah

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Palin's Picks as at Augsut 24/25 2010

Palin's Magic Touch

All the candidates Sarah Palin backed had a great night.

By John Dickerson

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010, at 12:36 PM ET/Slate

Sarah Palin has special medicine. That's about the only clear conclusion to be drawn from Tuesday's primary results. She backed five candidates in Arizona, Florida, and Alaska—and they all won. The rest of the results from the evening defied easy matching. The themes of anti-incumbency and voter anger are still out there, but the candidates who mastered those forces (or avoided them) did so in different ways.

In the Republican senatorial primary in Arizona, big-spending incumbent John McCain beat back J.D. Hayworth, who tried to run as the real conservative and picked up some Tea Party support. But in the Republican senatorial primary in Alaska, big-spending incumbent Lisa Murkowski looks like she may lose to her challenger from the right, Tea Party favorite Joe Miller. In the Florida Democratic Senate primary, late-starting rich guy Jeff Greene couldn't defeat Rep. Kendrick Meek by calling him a career politician. In the Republican gubernatorial primary in the same state, however, late-starting rich guy Rick Scott was able to defeat state Attorney General Bill McCollum by painting him as a political insider.

The lesson is the fundamental one in politics. Candidates and states are different. A lack of a consistent narrative is also to be expected. Still, in election years we always look for some clothesline on which to hang it all. It takes a lot of hand-waving and hokum to find one in Tuesday's results.

Nevertheless, we can say this: Sarah Palin is having a good morning. Twenty of the candidates she's endorsed have won. Ten have lost. That's a pretty good record. Her biggest victory looks like it might come in the Republican Senate primary in her home state. Joe Miller wasn't well-known and spent only about $300,000 on his race against incumbent Murkowski. Analysts were predicting he'd get trounced and that Palin would be embarrassed. He is now a few thousand votes ahead, though the outcome won't be certain for about a week.

Whether Miller wins or not, Palin has already won. She didn't go all out for Miller but she worked for him more than a lot of her other endorsed candidates, promoting his candidacy but also tearing down his opponent. Palin can take some credit for a portion of his good showing. There are other reasons, too. Miller had Tea Party funding and support. He also probably benefited from a ballot initiative that brought out conservative voters who wanted the state to notify the parents of young women getting abortions.

Palin now has more support for a favorite story line of hers: The pundits and so-called experts said things were going to go one way but she had faith; she knew the real deal. This is part of her larger pitch: that she understands something fundamental about conservative voters. That, in turn, is what voters believe about her, which makes them think she has a special light to guide the country out of the muck. How much real power Palin has to change minds or give candidates she endorses helpful exposure is still a big question. She may just be good at picking winners. But the Palin brand now grows ever stronger because other Republicans will want to access that magic. Even if they don't believe it really exists, they have to pretend it does or risk winding up like Lisa Murkowski. If she ever decides to run for president, her opponents will have to treat her very gently.

In addition to the Alaska surprise, the other big one of the night came in the Florida Republican gubernatorial primary, where it is apparently worse to be accused of being a "career politician" than "felon." Going into the election, Rick Scott and Democratic Senate challenger Jeff Greene looked like they were going to share the same story line: candidates whose personal fortunes couldn't overcome their personal problems. Scott's big problem was that his company paid the largest Medicare fraud fine in history. Two late polls showed Scott losing, but he overcame his bad rap by playing the outsider. He won a late endorsement by the Florida Tea Party and spent nearly $50 million labeling opponent Bill McCollum an insider.

McCollum was indeed the establishment candidate, backed by the state party, former Gov. Jeb Bush and the Chamber of Commerce. He had this support because no one, including the National Republican Committee, thinks Scott is a very good candidate. Democrats, who face a tough environment in the country's 37 gubernatorial races, were ecstatic. They think they have a shot now in this important state. In a redistricting year, the next governor will have a say in how congressional districts are drawn—including perhaps one new congressional seat.

In Arizona, meanwhile, McCain proved once again that he is a survivor. There was once a period several months ago where it looked like he might face a threat from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth. But McCain ran his campaign with the determination he used to show in the boxing ring in high school. Almost as soon as the bell went off, he rushed in and started swinging. Hayworth was a flawed candidate, and McCain used his every foible to paste him on the airwaves with negative ads. In the Colorado governor's race, Democrat John Hickenlooper is running a cute new ad about how he won't run negative ads. McCain wouldn't have won without them. Other politicians will probably take the McCain route rather than the Hickenlooper one.

Finally, Ben Quayle won the Republican primary in Arizona's third congressional district. The son of the former vice president survived allegations that he'd authored racy posts about Scottsdale women on a blog and posed with two children in a campaign flier to suggest that he had children he does not actually possess. In a campaign ad, he called Barack Obama "the worst president in history" and promised to come to Washington and "kick the hell out of the place." Since his district is reliably Republican, he's likely to win in the general election, which means he should probably get himself some sturdy boots.